How to start a Mentoring Program

Before you get started

Before you get started, this article is about a 5-10 minute read, the resources below might take about 10-20 minutes to get through and there is the option to engage in a workshop with Art of Mentoring for 60-90 minutes. That’s not a lot of time and at the end of it all we promise you will have everything you need to kickstart the best mentoring program your organisation has ever seen.

Starting a mentoring program isn’t rocket science but there’s
certainly an art to it. In this article we’ll explore the different learnings that we’ve gained over the past 20 years, hundreds of programs and weave in the methodologies of the International Standards of Mentoring and Coaching Programmes (ISMCP). At Art of Mentoring, we set a minimum benchmark of 80% satisfaction rates for matched pairs and most programs are much higher, so we’d like to help you achieve that too.

Depending on where you are in your mentoring program design journey, you may need different tools so here is a table of useful tools for you for the various stages of your journey:

Ripple Effect (5-10 minute read) – covers the methodologies of mentoring from program design, matching, measuring and effectively implementing a high impact mentoring program

Mentoring Program Business Plan Template (5-10 minutes preparation) – a template to build your very own mentoring program business plan submission

Readiness Test (2-3 minutes) – check to see if you have mastered the basics to get a good program off the ground

Kickstart Strategy Session (60-90 minutes) – schedule some time with an Art of Mentoring program designer who can help you build out your program and bring together your stakeholders

We break mentoring programs down into seven stages.

1. Pre-Evaluation & Research
2. Getting Ready
3. Design
4. Recruiting
5. Matching
6. Training & Support
7. Evaluation

1Pre evaluation and research

Pre-Evaluation and research are paramount to the success of a mentoring program. It’s a good idea for a program manager to ensure that their organisation understands what mentoring is and how it might solve a particular problem or contribute to a particular business outcome. For companies, the purpose if often to support high performers, or to improve engagement. For membership organisations, mentoring may be used as a member retention strategy, or to develop emerging leaders in the profession or industry.

It’s important to think about this clearly because your strategic positioning of the program will define its ability to deliver outcomes. If you are thinking of launching a program that is organisation wide and for anyone at any time, this has a place too, however it won’t solve all the problems you hope mentoring could other than providing access to knowledge anytime within the business.

Surveys or discussion groups are a great way to get the
conversation started with people who will value it the most, where the program is most needed and what problem it will help solve.

Put aside some material you find along the way (books, articles, blogs and websites) about mentoring design and how to run a mentoring program. Start benchmarking against other mentoring programs and find best practices you think will apply to your mentoring program too. Sometimes your industry already has a mentoring program on offer. Check your local associations to see if there are any ideas you can get from there.

Once you have a good idea of why you want to introduce mentoring (we love mentoring, but it is not the answer to everything!), next check that your organisation is ready and tighten up how you will talk about your program.
We highly recommend you take a look at our white paper
The Ripple Effect, which will help you dive into the world of evidence-based methodologies on how to implement programs.

2Getting Ready

Preparing your association or company for the mentoring program is simple if you have the right tools, have clearly defined a purpose and have stakeholders on-board.

a. Stakeholders
Make sure you have the support of your manager or executive team before pressing ahead with the design processes. There’s nothing worse than doing all that work to then try and convince them it’s worth something.

b. Purpose
Define a clear purpose for the mentoring program. Is it to empower women in the workforce, hand over knowledge from an aging workforce, increase employee/member retention by offering career development or perhaps reverse or reciprocal mentoring with the younger generation?

c. Goals and Objectives
With a clear purpose should come some real criteria to measure success. What does success look like? What would the feedback of a mentee or a mentor be to deem the program successful? How can you measure the outcomes?

d. Resources
Make 100% sure that you have the necessary functions to run a mentoring program. A mentoring program that is unsuccessful can be more damaging to your reputation than if it wasn’t there at all. Evaluate the amount of time and budget required to run a program like this.

Not sure if you’re ready? Take our Mentoring Program Readiness Self-Assessment to find out.

It’s also a great time to think about mentoring software if you haven’t already. Take a look at our mentoring platform to see how this can be an effective way to streamline the administration.


Design is the step that sets your foundations solidly and if the last two steps have been done sufficiently, you should know what you can and must do. You will have asked questions already such as is it important to have a formal or informal program, how much structure is required, should it be admin matched or self-matching, should I run a pilot program to test the waters, where will my funding come
from, and what resources do I need to throw at this?

It’s a good idea to put all those questions in a document and
answer them. You can then use this as a reference document for any decisions you make about the program specifics, recruitment process, timing and the final design.

Here’s a cool infographic to help put it into perspective.

So, you’ve done your homework, you are clear on your program purpose and design. All ready to go. Now you need people to get involved!

The Ripple Effect document gets you a long way with the
conversations you will be having at your organisation however you might want to consider at this point scheduling a Kickstart Strategy Session with an Art of Mentoring program designer to give you a helping hand to bring your stakeholders together and fill in any gaps in your design. Learn more here.


This is the fun part but also sometimes the part of the process that can allow the program to fall over so it’s important to design the marketing and recruiting process with the utmost care. If you already have an email database of employees or members then your job is significantly easier but you will want to have some type of application form (more often online these days) and a marketing
message attempting to on-board both mentees and mentors to the cause.

The application form should cover essentials such as name,
age and location but also selection criteria that you would have defined during the design phase. Only include in the application the information you need for matching – it can be tempting to ask lots of questions for which answers won’t necessarily help the matching process. A long application is boring and yield poor quality information. We generally suggest no more than 5 matching criteria.

Accompany your form with Terms and Conditions. This way you can make sure that the mentor or mentee agrees to the terms of the program and is aware of your expectations of them (also a good idea to relay payment details, etc. if a fee is involved).

Try to outline what you think the mentor or mentee will get from joining the program and integrate that into your marketing message. For example, “Mentees will be matched with experienced mentors who can help guide their mentee to a career they yearn for.” Or “Mentors will be matched with young eager mentees who want to learn and succeed. Giving back feels good but it can also give a fresh perspective.” Mentors get more from their participation than many realise, so don’t forget to include ‘what’s in it for the mentor’ in your marketing.

Nothing beats previous participant testimonials to convince people to join a mentoring program, so make sure you collect feedback and use these stories in your marketing materials. Written testimonials are great, but video clips are even better. Or invite past participants to share their experience at an information session for new program

So, now you have excited mentoring program participants, how will they be paired? It can be tempting to go the ‘self-serve’ route (i.e. mentees choose their own mentors from a directory) because this is easiest and least work intensive for the organisers. However, it is important to differentiate between the different ways of matching. Here’s our outline below…


Depending on the number of mentees you have, how well defined your selection criteria are or what technology you have at your fingertips matching can be either headbangingly laborious or a fairly simple process.

There are many types of mentoring and reasons for mentoring which may have an impact on how people are matched in your program. For example, certain types of programs such as peer-to-peer, group mentoring, knowledge transfer programs and others are going to
need some different approaches to matching vs your traditional 1:1 matching that cater well for strategic mentoring initiatives such as talent programs, leadership programs, reverse mentoring, diversity programs, etc. The 1:1 matching tends to be an organisationally driven initiative whereas the others can often be more employee or member driven.

We have seen many ways to do matching from printed sheets of paper on pin up boards to Excel Spreadsheets automatically populated from online application forms to mentoring program software that use matching algorithms to produce instant matching. The latter being the quickest form of matching.

For groups of over 20 pairs, we would never recommend the first method of pin up boards and manual matching. It’s boring and very hard to get right. If you are going to go down this route, make sure you keep it lean. Keep it short and sweet with participant’s profile details (age, location, etc.), selection criteria details (years of experience, specialisation, position, etc.) and eligibility criteria
(membership, employee number, etc.).

Excel spreadsheets work and have been used for many programs effectively but they still take time. To put it into perspective, a group of 20 pairs can take up to half a day to match. This may sound like a lot for 40 participants but it really is a push and pull process until you have the right balance.

Mentoring software solutions have built-in matching functionality as one of the program administration tools. These solutions can be somewhat of a drain on budget but they do more than matching and save you time, therefore money.

So, everyone is now matched – they can just get on with mentoring now, right? Well, actually, it is not quite so simple.

6Training and Support

Your mentoring program represents your brand or your
organisation’s support structure. Failure to deliver a successful relationship most of the time will have a very real impact on your member’s/employee’s impression of your brand. If there is an admin or a participation fee, being out of pocket could exacerbate disappointment due to relationship failure (offer money back guarantees for failed mentoring relationships).

In terms of training a common trap in mentoring program design is to overlook mentor and mentee training. Professor David Clutterbuck’s research has found that only about 1 in 3 mentoring relationships actually work if there is no training, whereas 2 in 3 will work if the mentor is trained. When you train both the mentor and mentee you get a 90%+ success rate. Make sure your mentors understand what their role actually is as a mentor and what expectations there are of them from the mentee and your organisation. They may be great managers, but not have the listening and communication skills that will make them masterful mentors. A balance of instruction and role playing of
mentoring scenarios is usually appreciated by first-time mentors.

Mentees need guidance in how to prepare for their mentoring experience and how to get the most out of the time they have with a mentor. We find that mentees are often unclear about their own goals for the program and need some guidance to help them focus.

In terms of support getting the balance is difficult and depends on the industry or workplace. Some groups may want less support in the form of materials and process; others may need to be guided through the whole process. A pilot program can help you determine

your group’s preferences. It is advisable however to have key milestones and touch points that make sure that the relationship has started, hasn’t fallen over and wraps up neatly. These can take place as an email, telephone call or an event.

Check out our ready made Online Mentoring Training Course for Mentors and Mentees and our Mentoring Program Manager’s Training too.

We’re in the home straight now. The program has been running for a few months so you can just sit back and wait for the accolades at the end, right? Hmm… maybe not….


We have been a part of many mentoring programs’ design evaluation where the coordinator thought the program was running very smoothly until we ran a program evaluation only to find from our surveys that 1 in 3 were dissatisfied. If you are running a mentoring program, your duty of care is to evaluate and re-evaluate. If you don’t run surveys, introduction & closure events or courtesy phone calls you are flying blind and you run the risk of program failure and reputation maiming.

A great resource for learning about effective program measurement to track its overall impact on many levels can be found on this article Goal Setting and Measuring the Impact of Mentoring.

Aside from risk assessment and avoidance, a mentoring program is so much more satisfying when it’s running effectively and your mentees are telling you it is life changing. And you need to try to hear from everyone – just a few anecdotes from a couple of happy participants that contact you can be very misleading.

Check on participant progress at least once or twice during the program, then do a complete and thorough evaluation at the end. This means a full participant survey and an internal re-think of your program design. Small changes can help you get that recipe right to really change people’s lives! Get the final mix right and reap the rewards of reaching your objectives or goals and boosting your reputation as value adding.

At Art of Mentoring we provide tools and resources for all aspects of the mentoring program design, implementation and evaluation. Please contact us for more information or take a look at our blog for more articles on mentoring.

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A guide to unleashing the hidden value in your organisation through high impact strategic mentoring programs.

Most human beings and organisations have one thing in common – they both want to do better. But it’s hard for one to achieve without the other. When you can harness both you can achieve great things.

Unfortunately, most organisational structures are hierarchical, which may aid efficiency but not necessarily “real” human interaction.

Solving the human equation is the cornerstone of great culture and the larger and more diverse the workforce, the more challenging it becomes, even before we factor in things like location, technology and pay rates.

Well designed and managed mentoring programs can have a dramatic impact on workplace culture and people engagement. A strategic mentoring program transcends hierarchy, creating relationships and interactions to build individual and hence organisational value.

In this guide we present you with proven practical insights on how to design, build, implement and automate a high influence mentoring program and create your own ripple effect.

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the ripple effect